Why what we really need are female super villains — not a female James Bond

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With increasingly political themes, those that were previously overlooked for the unappealing whims of an altogether more serious cinema, today’s box-office bankers are no longer the flat, binary good-against-bad capers. Our superheroes or even the ones not so super are having to deal with real life issues so as to retain a kind of relevance that is beginning to count for more than just collection at the theatre. As part of one such ongoing debate, British actress Gillian Anderson (Hannibal and The Fall) posted on Twitter a picture of herself as the next 007, or the super-spy we fondly know as Bond, thereby piquing interest in a debate that had so far had few takers.

From long-read meditative pieces to shorter opinionated ones, an array of writers have called upon the need for a female Bond, and why not? But why only, the politically and, at most times even morally, correct Bond? Or for that matter any of those characters who have walked the predictable tightrope of ‘doing what is good for humanity’?

Through the litany of cinematic roles that women have portrayed over the years, very few have been downright dark or ghastly as compared to say, the most recent and utterly convincing, turn of Rosamund Pike as a genuinely unsettling, not-your-traditional-wife, in Gone Girl. The reason a film like Gone Girl comes across as an oddity, is perhaps because traditionally cinema’s crazies have always been men. The far right and the far left of cinematic language thus, are just opposites and are predictably, masculine in nature; meaning that even the odd villainous turn of a woman has either to do with her hitting the gym when she was eight (to basically become a man) or her sexuality for which there is no shortage of takers, in essence. So basically, the idea of a woman as a negative character stretches no further than between ‘like-a-man’ to ‘liked-by-man’.

There is evidently no space for women who outsmart or outpunch us.

Sparingly, etched-in-stone masculinities are served with a scandalous tinge of the feminine side as with Christian Bale’s near-perfect turn as of one of the best anti-heroes ever written in Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho. But across the board, whether it is Hannibal Lecter or Raoul Silva from Skyfall, the general trend, is that of iteration. Most characters are recycled within their masculine turgidities with scope only for plastic touches that are supposed to make us feel differently about each one of them.

Why then is there no debate to have women as genuine baddies in cinema? Of course there is nothing like ‘genuine’ in the world of villains, carved as they are from severely complicated half-lies and half-truths. But still you would think that in the near 100 years of existence of cinema and half of that since feminism has been a thing, there would be roles more representative of our psychology than our fantasies. Even in the path-breaking Gone Girl — this is only mainstream cinema we are talking about as it is what most people watch — the male lead is reduced to playing an emotionally hamstrung husband. That again, reeks of a world where all appropriations are male-conceived. Since an order of such, hidden form, exists, it is perhaps natural to expect or consider the role of women in the one form that would defy the order altogether.

India, to our own general surprise, has maybe done well in showcasing characters like Phoolan Devi, or Urmila Matondkar’s Ria in Pyar Tune Kya Kiya, but even these characters have to an extent fallen prey to the correctness of moral revenge or the suggestion of retardation that is considered more immoral than it is considered unacceptable. Hollywood hasn’t covered itself in glory either in its treatment of negative characters for which it yearns to make up only in the Ghostbusters-reboot-kind of flapper. But one can only wonder why a woman has never been allowed to play one of those paranoia-stricken, genuinely cracked villains that we have come to love to hate over the years.

A few characters may still come to mind, like that of Juliette Lewis’ temptress in Romeo Is Bleeding but then again that isn’t mainstream cinema. To television’s credit, roles like Claire Daines’ believable yet not entirely likeable turn as CIA agent Carrie Mathieson in Homeland is a breath of fresh air – albeit in a positive role. Other than that, cinema’s bad women are almost limited to playing the self-regarding lower bases of a love triangle, in which their only summon to any kind of power over a man is to be slutty. There is absolutely no room in mainstream cinema, apart from an exception here or there, for women to be self-loathing, bitter, violent or just bonkers in the mind.

Almost embarrassingly, we must admit that the desire to rule the world, or destroy it, rests in the hand of the man, as the women are left to play second fiddle to a larger plan. Nothing could be truer, that being said, of the reality as we choose to ignore it. If only our filmmakers are brave enough to hand the women in our films the baton to beat our hero with, will they open the doors to exploring the virtues, and lack thereof in women, that haven’t already been defined by our very narrow gaze. It is, therefore, time for women to be cast as characters the iconic status of some of whom has endured because of their many lesser humanisms. Real power, after all, is the power to destroy.

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